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Mass Incarceration in the United States: At What Cost?

Thursday October 4th, 2007

The United States has experienced a sharp increase in its prison population in the past thirty years.  From the 1920s to the mid-1970s, the incarceration rate in the United States remained steady at approximately 110 prisoners per 100,000 people. Today, the incarceration rate is 737 inmates per 100,000 residents, comprising 2.1 million persons in federal, state, and local prisons.  The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but now has 25 percent of its prisoners.  There are approximately 5 million Americans under the supervision of the correctional system, including parole, probation, and other community supervision sanctions.

With such a significant number of the population behind bars, expenditures associated with the prison system have skyrocketed.  According to the Urban Institute, “the social and economic costs to the nation are enormous.”  With 2.25 million people incarcerated in approximately five thousand prisons and jails, the combined expenditures of local governments, state governments, and the federal government for law enforcement and corrections personnel totals over $200 billion.

The JEC will examine why the United States has such a disproportionate share of the world’s prison population, as well as ways to address this issue that responsibly balance public safety and the high social and economic costs of imprisonment.

Opening Statements: Senator Webb's Opening Statement
  Congresswoman Maloney's Opening Statement
  Congressman Robert Scott's Statement
Witnesses: Dr. Glenn Loury, Economics and Social Sciences Professor, Brown University
  Dr. Bruce Western, Director Inequality and Social Policy Program, Harvard University
  Alphonso Albert, Executive Director, Second Chances
  Michael Jacobson, Executive Director, Vera Institute for Justice
  Pat Nolan, Vice President, Prison Fellowship, Reston, Virginia
Charts: The Incarceration Rate Has Continued to Rise Despite Falling Crime Rates
  Institutionalization Rates Have Skyrocketed for Black Men
  The Incarceration Rate for Black Males Remains Much Higher than Other Democgraphic Groups
  The U.S. Incarceration Rate is the Highest in the World
  Chart Submitted by Glenn Loury: Incarceration Rates by Neighborhood in New York City from 1985-1996
  Chart Submitted by Glenn Loury: Marijuana Arrests in New York City from 1977-2006
  Chart Submitted by Glenn Loury: Marijuana Arrests in New York City by Race from 1986-2006
  Chart Submitted by Bruce Western: Black Male High School Drop-Outs Have Much Greater Risk of Ending Up in Prison than Other Demographics
  Table Submitted by Bruce Western: Black Males are More Likely to be Incarcerated than to be Married
  Table Submitted by Bruce Western: Pay and Employment Among Ex-Prisoners
Location: 216 Hart Senate Office Building
Time: 10:00am
Press Advisory:

Joint Economic Committee to Examine Economic Costs of Surge in U.S. Prison Population and Possible Solutions

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